Posted by: Dan | June 16, 2008

Re-presenting Death with Guillermo del Toro

And I am not frightened of dying, any time will do.
I don't mind.
Why should I be frightened of dying? There's no reason for it.
All of us have got to go sometime.

~ Pink Floyd, The Great Gig in the Sky

The other night, I watched The Orphanage by Guillermo del Toro. While I didn't enjoy this film nearly as much as Pan's Labyrinth, there was one similarity between the two movies which I found to be quite striking (but be warned, I'm talking about the endings of these movies, so if you intend to watch them, don't read what follows!).

I'm thinking of the way in which death is presented in these films. Death, although something feared by the protagonists of each film (and, by extension, feared by the viewers who become invested in the fate of these characters), is actually portrayed as the moment of triumph. Death is, to put it simply, the happy ending. Thus, in The Orphanage, Laura is finally united with her son, is united with her childhood friends and is granted her wish of caring for 'special children' — Laura is like Wendy returning to Neverland. Similarly, in Pan's Labyrinth, Ofelia overcomes her final test by laying down her life for her brother and returns, triumphantly, to the Underworld where she is a Princess.

Yet both of these films are not simple fairy tales, nor are they traditional 'feel-good' movies. There is a great deal of the horrible, the violent, and the grotesque in both. Yet these elements belong within the realm of the living. In these films the death the threatens, haunts, and hangs over us, ends up reversing all our fears and comes to us as victory, as joy, and as relief from the violence and horrors we experience in life.

This, I think, is part of the reason why del Toro's films have resonated with me. In a way, it captures something I was trying to express in an earlier post (cf. http://poserorprophet.livejournal.com/137015.html): death is a burden borne by the living, not by the dead.

There is something of a mix of irony, mystery, and awe in such an assertion. After all, according to Scripture, death is the great enemy (cf. 1 Cor 15.26; Rev 20.14; 21.4). Yet, at the same time, given Christ's triumph over death, death is utterly impotent — it fails to wound us, destroy us, or separate us from the Lord of Life and the world s/he created. Thus, with Paul we can now proclaim: “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1.21).

Similarly, I can't help but wonder if the same is true of all other things that we fear and experience as insurmountably destructive. Perhaps, on the day that our Lord comes for us, these things will also be revealed as utterly impotent, and will pass away in the blink of an eye.

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